You’ve searched and searched, and you’ve finally found it: your future home. It’s perfect — at least as far as you can tell, anyhow. But while having your offer accepted will be the first official step toward homeownership, there’s another crucial step you’ll need to do before you start packing boxes and picking out paint swatches — you need to get a home inspection for your potential abode.

A home inspection may not be the most exciting way to spend a few hundred bucks, but it’s one of the smartest investments you can make. Home inspectors are trained to spot potential snags that could lead to costly repairs down the road. And if you catch those issues before you’ve moved in, you may be able to get the seller to help you cover the cost of fixing them, which could save you a lot of money in the long run. Here’s everything you need to know about getting your home inspected.

Choosing an Inspector

You may be tempted to do a DIY inspection or enlist a handy friend to scope out the house, but hiring a professional is the best bet. Home inspections typically cost between $300 and $5001, but don’t let price be your deciding factor — it’s worth paying a little extra for an experienced inspector with a stellar reputation. After all, a thorough inspection could save you thousands of dollars if a major issue turns up.

If possible, ask your future neighbors for recommendations, because an inspector who’s already familiar with your neighborhood will know what common issues to look for. Otherwise, search the American Society of Home Inspectors directory2 for a local inspector, or read reviews at sites like Angie’s List or Google. Your real estate agent can also be a great resource.

Scheduling Your Home Inspection

Your contract will most likely mention a “due-diligence period,” which is the amount of time you’re given — typically around 10 business days — to get your home inspected. That may not seem like much time, but inspectors are used to the time crunch. Just contact your home inspector as soon as possible, and try to choose a time when you’re available to tag along. You’re not required to be there, but it can be helpful to see any trouble spots in person and ask questions.

What Your Inspector Should Look For

Not only will a home inspection help you protect your investment, but it’s also a perfect opportunity to get acquainted with your future home. Your home inspector should walk around outside to make sure the foundation, roof and siding are in good shape and water drains away from the house. Inside, they should check the plumbing, test the outlets, open and close every window, heat up the oven, run the air conditioning, inspect for evidence of termites, look for any ventilation issues and more.

If you’re buying an older home, they should check for anything that’s not up to modern-day safety standards — like old railings, lead paint or asbestos tiles. Feel free to bring up any questions or concerns you have along the way. The home inspection usually takes around two or three hours from start to finish, and after it’s complete, you’ll receive a detailed report of any safety risks or necessary repairs.

Extra Inspections You May Need

There are a few things your inspector can’t do, like hunt for hidden mold behind the walls. You’ll want to hire a separate contractor for that, especially if you’re buying in a flood zone or a humid climate. Home inspectors usually won’t check inside your chimney either, but a basic chimney inspection is relatively inexpensive. It’s important to test the radon level, too —you can do this yourself with an at-home kit, or enlist a pro. And if your house is in an earthquake-prone area, you might consider getting it inspected for earthquake preparedness as well.

Use Your Home Inspection For Good Vibes

Remember, your inspector’s job is to point out every little thing, so don’t get discouraged if your home inspection report is full of red marks. That doesn’t mean your new house is a lemon — it just means you hired a thorough inspector, and now you have the info you need to negotiate the best solution with the seller. (Worst case scenario, the home inspector may find a deal-breaking problem with the house, which is definitely better to find out about before closing.)

On the flip side, if your home inspection report turns out to be squeaky clean, that doesn’t mean the inspection was a waste of money — it lets you feel fully confident about your purchase. Plus, you can print out any items that do show up on your inspection as a handy “to-do” list for your first year or two in your new home.

Deciding What’s Important

Once you have the inspection report in hand, the next step is to figure out which repairs you want the seller to address before you move in. Much of what your home inspector finds will be a normal part of the aging process of a home, like a loose brick on the front steps or a stove burner that doesn’t heat up. If it’s something you can fix in a weekend with a little bit of elbow grease, you may decide to overlook it and save your bargaining power for the big stuff, like replacing an old roof or upgrading the electrical service.

Negotiating Repairs

Once you decide which issues are most important to you, there are two ways to approach it. You can ask the seller to have the repairs done before closing, or you can negotiate a reduced sale price to give you extra wiggle room in your budget to make the repairs yourself once you are the proud owner. Your real estate attorney or agent can contact the seller with your request. It may take a little back-and-forth discussion, but this is your opportunity to have the seller split (or even cover) the cost of any needed repairs. That way, you know you’re getting a fair deal on the house you’ve been dreaming about calling home. And by the time you have the keys in hand, you — and the house — will be ready to make that dream come true.

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